By Amy Daybert Herald Writer
LAKE STEVENS — Mark Wakefield sees it as a promise unkept.
He lives in a portion of the city annexed in December 2009. The retired Monroe police commander said he voted for the southwest annexation that added more than 10,000 city residents only because city leaders said they would greatly increase the police force.
At the time, Lake Stevens expected to add a dozen officers to its department of 24 commissioned officers. Instead, the city added only four officers, increasing the department to 28. With budget woes, the city is laying off one of those officers and keeping another position vacant.
That’s a problem for Wakefield.
“I think the average person will notice a difference in a lot of ways,” said Wakefield, 61. “Lake Stevens is not doing anything that’s proactive. All they’re doing is reactive.”
Police Chief Randy Celori said he would have loved to add more officers, but a lack of funding, as well as a lack of need, hasn’t made that possible. The department is providing the best service it can with available resources, he said.
“If you look at the service that we’re providing now, we have great response times,” he said. “Our officers are staying very proactive. If you look at the amount of calls and the productivity that our officers are doing, it’s probably some of the highest in the county. If you look at our crime rate per thousand or per capita, you’re going to find that Lake Stevens is probably one of the lowest.”
City officials and the police department know other Snohomish County cities have decided to cut costs by contracting to receive police services from the Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office. That kind of agreement is not being considered in Lake Stevens, Celori said.
On Sept. 1, the city will have a total of 24 commissioned officers made up of 17 police officers, five sergeants, a commander and a chief.
The decision to lay off an officer was difficult but necessary, city administrator Jan Berg said.
“It has everything to do with the budget,” she said.
A budget subcommittee composed of Mayor Vern Little and three City Council members met publicly in March to look over financial projections for six years. They learned the city was on track to have a negative fund balance by 2016.
The city has previously asked all its departments, including the police department, to reduce their budgets as much as possible, Berg said. An administrative position was cut in 2008 and one planner and a public works engineer were laid off in 2010. The budget subcommittee made a recommendation to the council to lay off an officer. Council members agreed to it at their July 9 meeting.
The city expects to save $104,195 this year by laying off the officer and leaving the other position vacant.
With all of these changes, the city now expects to have a small reserve of 4 percent by the end of 2016.
Berg said focusing on economic development plans should lead to generating more tax revenue for the city. Those plans are scheduled to be discussed and adopted by the council in September. The layoff notice was issued on June 29 and the officer’s last day was scheduled for last week. But he’s been kept on through this month while another officer takes time off, Celori said.
“He’s a good employee and we’re trying to help him,” said Celori, adding that he’s calling other departments to try to find a job for the officer, who was hired in 2010.
Wakefield believes that fewer police officers means higher response times to crimes. He also thinks a well-staffed police department can help a community in other ways than just responding to 911 calls. And he wants to continue down that path himself: He plans to advocate for a skate park and other opportunities for young people.
“If we can keep our kids busy, perhaps they won’t be interested in getting involved in alcohol or drugs,” he said. “Everybody I talked to is extremely concerned, and everybody I’ve talked to is willing to get involved.”
Amy Daybert: 425-339-3491; firstname.lastname@example.org.